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1. Reach out to both sides for comment
As a citizen journalist, the number one thing you’re looking for is the truth. Most of the time, the truth does not always come from one source. In order to find the truth, you will need to contact more than one source because each person has a different perspective and a different side of the story. The more sources you have, the better off you’ll be as a credible journalist. One of the ways to do this is by calling different people for a comment or a quote.
If you’ve never contacted a source for comment before, here’s a checklist of what to do:
- Whether you’re calling an organization or an individual, it’s always important to disclose who you are and what publication you’re reporting for.
- Take down the specific details of your conversation: Who did you speak with? Get the name of the person, their occupation, and the date and time you spoke. Even if it was just a personal assistant or someone else other than the person you were looking for, it’s always important to keep these details handy.
- Be sure to let your source know what your deadline is so the source knows to call back if they want their perspective included in the article. In case somebody claims that they never got a call from you asking for a quote or to verify whether information was correct, the details of you spoke with will protect your journalistic integrity.
- If you’re contacting a politician, a government agency, or some other organization, find their website and search for their press office’s contact information. The press office’s job is to answer media inquiries.
You can learn more about sourcing from our tip sheet here.
2. Avoid one-source stories
Nobody likes a one-source story that doesn’t present both sides of the argument. With a one-source story, you run the risk of favoring one side of the story over the other or taking sides. This happens a lot in political arguments where it’s easy to favor one particular viewpoint over the other by giving one side more coverage than the other. One way to avoid this is to exercise fair play. For example, say you’re reporting on a political debate. When a candidate makes an accusation against his opponent, ask that opponent for a response on the record.
Maintaining a balance of sources can also apply for non-political stories. If the local school board is holding a public forum on whether to ban certain books from the school libraries, citizens in the community will represent both sides of the issue. A reporter may have strong feelings about the subject. But regardless of his feelings, he should interview both those citizens who support the ban, and those who oppose it. Always keep in mind the possibility that there may be another side/angle to a story, and give both sides equal space within the story.
3. Keep your language neutral
Facts change minds over opinions. As a citizen journalist, you can be more effective in convincing the reader by upholding a standard of objectivity. Objectivity means that when covering hard news, reporters don’t convey their own feelings, biases or prejudices in their stories.
Writing objectively is different from writing a personal essay or opinion piece. If you’re someone who is used to writing opinion, it can be hard to keep your own feelings out of your stories. Many beginning reporters often get trapped into conveying opinion through the overuse of adjectives.
The intrepid protesters demonstrated against the unjust government policies.
By using the words “intrepid” and “unjust,” the writer has quickly conveyed his feelings on the story – the protesters are brave and just in their cause while the government policies are wrong. Because adjectives convey feelings both intentionally and unintentionally, many reporters try not to use too many adjectives at all.
When you’re describing a scene, report events as they happen- not as you would like them to happen. Putting too much sensationalism and inflammatory language in a story can exaggerate the facts and ruin your integrity.
Thousands of angry, union thugs showed up to protest wages. (when there were really only 50 people)
The words “angry” and “thugs” are characterizing the protesters with inflammatory language. Unless you know for a fact that the protesters were part of a union, it’s a generalization otherwise. Saying “thousands” when only 50 people were in attendance at the protest is not only an exaggeration of attendance, but it’s a misreporting of the facts.
It’s always better to report what people say themselves over what interested parties say people said.
Being as fair and balanced in your writing as you can be will not only produce a well-reported story, but it will also give you a better reputation as a journalist.
Need help making your story fair and balanced? Contact email@example.com for guidance!
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- Citizen Spotlight: Woody Merry, City Government Watchdog
- Watchful Citizens Follow Founders’ Vision for America
- Citizen Spotlight: Elizabeth Myers, Maryland’s Legislative Watchdog
- TIP SHEET: Writing Letters to the Editor